The Open Boat Journey

If you can imagine yourself in a boat measuring 23 feet by 6 feet 9 inches, jam-packed with 18 desperate, starving men, with 7 inches of freeboard (on one of the few calm days, let alone the others), and, day after day, rigorously writing up a detailed log in meticulous copper-plate calligraphy, you can gain some insight into what manner of man was William Bligh.

They lived on one ounce of bread and a quarter of a pint of water per day, supplemented by ship's biscuit, an occasional mouthful of coconut, breadfruit or yam, the entrails of a seabird, a thimbleful of its blood. For an unbearable twenty-one of the forty-three days, they were subjected to heavy and almost continuous rain and even on fine days almost constant bailing was needed.

After seven weeks of horror, they arrived at Timor, numbed with cold, tortured with constipation, exhausted with bailing and almost at famine point even though ample stores remained. They had reached Timor many days earlier than Bligh had calculated, having made the remarkable progress of almost ninety miles a day.

Christian, meanwhile, had made a swift visit to Tahiti where he enticed or kidnapped "wives" for his crew and collected goats, pigs, fowls, a bull and a cow, transporting this strange agglomeration to Toobouai, 350 miles south, where he built a massive fort. An attack by 700 natives was repulsed, but led to a vote by the majority to return to Tahiti. In September of 1789, Christian landed sixteen of them there, while nine elected to stay with the Bounty. Together with their wives, six Polynesian men and a baby, they set sail in search of a haven.

George III swiftly dispatched H.M.S. Pandora to capture the mutineers. She was under the command of Captain Edward Edwards, a man compared with whom Bligh was a saint. He sailed to the obvious place - Tahiti - and had no trouble capturing those of the Bounty's crew who had stayed there.

On the ship's quarter-deck he ordered the building of the infamous Pandora's Box - a construction 18 feet by 11 feet, only just taller than a man and entered by a scuttle in the roof, about eighteen inches square. In this airless and fetid prison, fourteen men were incarcerated for sixty days.

Edwards spent three fruitless months searching for the Bounty, passing within 500 kilometres of Pitcairn where Christian's party had now settled, comforted by the knowledge that the island had been wrongly charted by the explorer Carteret and thus was as good as invisible.

Norfolk Island History in Detail

Early Days
The 'Bounty' Connection
Seeds of Mutiny
The Open Boat Journey
Starvation on Norfolk
Fate of the Bounty Mutineers
The Noble Savages
Second Settlement
Hell in Paradise
Pitcairn to Norfolk